Betfair PokerBen Fried is Head of Betfair Poker, one of Europe’s fastest growing poker rooms. He talks to Gambling Online Magazine about staying ahead of the pack and making sure the fairer sex join the party.
According to sites in the know the online poker industry is growing by 10% per month and has grown 15-fold in the past two years. It is Betfair’s Head of Poker, Ben Fried, whose job it is to stay ahead of the trends and maintain a strong position in this highly competitive market.
“There is massive growth across the whole sector but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and enjoy it. We’re consistently aiming to differentiate ourselves from the masses of poker rooms out there” he says. “I have played cards since I was three years old and have been playing poker since I was fifteen. I love the game and I think that helps me to offer the best value to our players.” Fried often plays over 10 hours of poker a week which causes no end of frustration to his wife, but he affirms that playing poker is a very important part of his job. “I am very lucky. I love my job and it is very closely linked with one of my favourite pastimes.”
Poker has seen tremendous growth over the last few years and there are questions being asked by industry analysts whether it is sustainable, but he is optimistic about the prospects for online poker: “I think online poker will continue to grow ahead of traditional online casino gaming. The main reason for this is that it is a skill game where good players can consistently win. But that doesn’t mean no-one else has a chance. It’s the only game in the world where you can sit down with the best in the world and beat them.”
Launched in May 2004, Betfair Poker is already one of the fastest growing poker rooms in Europe and the fastest growing room on the Cryptologic network. As a licensee of Cryptologic (the Canadian poker software provider), it is a member of the fourth largest poker network on the internet. Betfair Poker is also building a reputation at the final table of major live tournaments.
“We want Betfair Poker to be the best place in the world to qualify for live events” says Fried. “We expect to spend around $1m sending players to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and our players are able to win an unlimited number of seats.
In February we created the Threedom Pass; a unique pass which is given to Betfair qualified players that make the final table at live events. We will then pay for them to go to that event for the next three years.”
He is particularly pleased with this initiative because it attracts the high rollers to Betfair Poker. Since the introduction of the Threedom Pass Betfair Poker has already committed to sending two players to events for the following three years. The most recent winner was Brit, Fraser Dunphy who finished eighth in Monte Carlo at the European Poker Tour Grand final. Of the thousands of professional poker players around the world, Fried wants Betfair Poker to attract the best. They already have Bengt Sonnert and Ben Grundy on their books.
“We really look after ‘Team Betfair’. Not only do we get players into the top events, we pay for them to get there, pay for their accommodation and ultimately try to create the most comfortable environment possible for them so that they can concentrate on winning.”
Fried’s latest plan is to hold coaching seminars at live events so that members of ‘Team Betfair’ can learn from the pros, discuss tactics, and analyze mistakes. “It is amazing how successful the Scandinavian’s are at poker. One of the main reasons for this is that the poker players form such a tight knit community and learn from each other. We are building an online poker community where knowledge is shared.”
Poker has traditionally been male dominated and it is Betfair Poker’s intention to break into the female market. When Betfair Poker began, women represented only 6% of all online players. This figure has grown by 43% in under two years. It seems poker is no longer a game for middle aged men smoking cigars in darkened rooms. Celebrity endorsement and glamorous ad campaigns have changed the stereotype. There have also been successful role models for women in poker such as Annie Duke, Barbara Enright and actress Jennifer Tilly.
“Women are known to be savvy online shoppers and internet users and there are a large and growing number of female poker players out there. No single company has yet managed to attain a large share of the female market, so Betfair Poker believes there is an opportunity to acquire larger female representation amongst our players by broadening the scope of our promotions and services. Women are more loyal customers to poker sites which make them particularly valuable.”
Some of the barriers traditionally stopping women playing poker have been broken down by the web. Online poker takes away the fear factor of walking into a casino full of men and the ‘play for fun’ or low limit tables create a low risk environment in which to learn. “We have held a series of women-only poker nights for our customers and have acted on their suggestions. We want to give women the opportunity to learn the game in a less intimidating environment. The promotions we have put in place have been developed by female members of our marketing team with an aim of emphasising the fun element rather than creating an immediately competitive environment.”
The jazzy pink webpage at www.betfairpoker.com/ladiesnight is a new webpage for female players. There is a guide to poker, a language glossary, and a women only forum for exchanging views and sharing advice. There is also the opportunity to ‘ask the ladies’; where players can pose questions to three of Betfair Poker’s top female players.
As part of the Ladies Night campaign, Betfair will host an all women tournament on the 20th April in London’s West End. Fried calls this “the search for the Betfair Poker Goddess”. The winner will be trained by Betfair Poker’s professionals and sent to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. “Poker players are gaining an increasing celebrity status. Players like Gus Hansen, Bengt Sonnert and Devilfish are all recognizable names. Women are starting to get the same kind of recognition and respect and we want the Betfair Poker Goddess to join the charge. As a game of strategy, skill, instinct and luck, there is no gender advantage and women are beginning to challenge the men on the world scene.”
One of Fried’s marketing team’s most popular initiatives is the Ultimate Night In. Betfair Poker will send a male model around to winners’ houses to host the ultimate poker nights. “This is to reward our customers. You have to remember that most online poker players are very normal people who don’t have time to go gallivanting off to play in casino tournaments or hold a poker tournament themselves. We want to give our customers a relaxing night of fun and entertainment in their own home. The fact that the dealer is quite good looking is… well… a bonus.”
The potentially high stakes and intense competition in poker has been shunned in favour of this soft introduction. The winner of the live event, who will be sent to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Vegas, could potentially be a player who has never paid into a game of poker. The emphasis for this campaign is not monetary; Betfair is trying to highlight the fun factor in poker.
“Some other sites are doing similar promotions but we feel confident that ours will connect with the female audience”, Fried concludes. “Our focus groups suggested that women are not immediately attracted to the idea of competing with men at poker, and prefer to learn the game in a relaxed and friendly environment with other people of a similar skill level. Often only when they have understood and mastered the game are women interested in beating the men.”
So, you heard it here first: the future of online poker is female.